Caesar’s Palace, MGM Grand, and Circus Circus are synonymous with the Vegas strip.

…which is exactly why I avoided them like a mobster avoids the IRS.

Instead I set out to hit some of Sin City’s less obvious spots — some were suggested to me by readers and friends who live in the area, and some I stumbled upon by happy accident.

The Neon Museum's first refurbished sign.

Here’s my take on what to see and what to skip to maximize your off-strip experience.

>> Absolutely Awesome:

Fremont East District

Some locals had told me about how the Fremont East District used to be a sketchy zone where people were held up at gunpoint and had their Chihuahuas stolen, but was now being revitalized. The “Fremont Street Experience,” with its trippy light show and zip-liners whizzing overhead (if you haven’t gotten your fill of neon, head a mile north to the Neon Museum), may have drawn me to this area, but it was the funky retro eateries and bars that kept me hanging around.

All of the places I visited — The Beauty Bar with its Punk Rock Prom band, the Emergency Arts collective and its independent coffeehouse/record shop (The Beat), and the Kabob Korner with its amazingly fresh Mediterranean food — had a style and vibe I dug.

Over the last few years, the city has put a lot of dough into cleaning up the old historic area and molding it into a bona fide cultural center, and I have a feeling this area will just get better.

Pinball Hall of Fame

This is where the awesome starts.

The nondescript building had me feeling skeptical, but awesomeness smacked me in the face when I stepped inside.

This place is for the kid in all of us, so instead of blowing your cash at the blackjack tables, head here for some good old-fashioned 25-cent arcade action.

The guys who run the joint are all from the Las Vegas Pinball Collectors Club. It’s nonprofit, and most of the money they make goes to charity (last year they donated $400,000 to the Salvation Army), so you can feel even better about emptying your pockets here.

Pura Vida Bakery & Bystro

Before I left Vegas, I stopped in at this little hole-in-the-wall on Western Avenue. The food was delicious; it also happened to be vegan. I’m not a vegan, but I usually find this kind of cuisine to be more satisfying, creative, and tastier than your standard meat fare.

Lucky for me, this little gem did not disappoint. I paired a rooibos iced tea with the Jace, Pura Vida’s signature wrap stuffed full of flav0r-rich roasted tofu and veggies. The best part was Chef Mayra (who also owns and runs the place) visiting my table to make sure I was enjoying everything.

I’m pretty sure I’d be eating here everyday if I were a local, but one word of warning, you can’t be in a hurry!

The inside of the infamous Double Down Saloon.

>> Pretty Cool:

Double Down Saloon

This off-the-strip legend is the best known dive bar in Vegas, serving up things like Ass Juice and Bacon Martinis.

If you’re looking for food, your only option is what the bartender referred to as the “Dinner Machine,” which sits next to the punk rock juke box and offers things like Doritos and Skittles. But don’t worry: the bar offers ”Puke Insurance” for $20 in case you can’t stomach what they have on their menu.

If you like dark, dingy, and smoky with a heaping portion of attitude and grunge, this place is for you.

Ronald’s Donut Shop 

Ronald peeking out over his display cases. Fab donuts.

Ronald is friendly and his donuts are delicious. The top three rows are vegan if you’re into that — but if you’re not, there’s plenty of normal ooey-gooey options to choose from.

>> Meh, Skip:

Ethel M. Chocolate Factory

This one’s probably more fun with kids. Had one of their signature iced chocolate drinks, and despite being a chocolate enthusiast, feel no need to come back.

Chinatown 

I got excited when I heard that Vegas had a burgeoning Chinatown on Spring Mountain Road, only to find it was in a strip mall with zero character or charm. Maybe it just needs a few more years to grow up.

Red Rock Resort Spa and Casino

In keeping with my off-strip theme, I stayed at the hotel locals had voted their favorite casino. While the facilities were great and the view of the desert was striking, it was really far from all the action (about a half hour from downtown) — and even from most off-strip adventures. Next time I’ll stay closer to the heart of Vegas — unless I come back when it’s cool enough to explore the Red Rock Canyon area, which I hear is amazing (anytime between October 1 and Christmas, apparently).

Gold and Silver Pawn Shop

I’ve never seen “Pawn Stars,” but apparently the show has many adoring fans…who were all waiting in a long line to get in. I’m not a fan of mob scenes, so didn’t bother to stick around. I’m sure it would’ve been fun to check out, but not worth the wait.

It’s your turn now…Tell me what I SHOULD have seen in the comments section below.

Follow Shannon’s adventures on Twitter @CuriousTraveler and on Instagram @ShannonSwitzer

Shannon is photographing with an Olympus PEN E-PM1 and an Olympus Tough TG-820.

Comments

  1. Jeff Gardner
    Whitby, ON
    July 26, 2013, 6:29 pm

    Excellent article; my wife and I have been travelling to Vegas as our primary spot for the past two years (babysitter dependent). These off-the-strip recommendations will be helpful.
    I’d also second the Mob Museum. Fascinating and expertly done, I spent hours in there on the last trip.

    • Shannon Switzer
      July 26, 2013, 9:56 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it! The Mob Museum is definitely on my list for next time.

  2. Angelo
    February 1, 2013, 5:47 pm

    It is great to read more about the things off the Strip. I think most of the people are obsessed with the hotels and casinos on the Strip http://www.hotelsonthestrip.org/the-strip/

  3. Hunt
    Thailand
    August 21, 2012, 12:53 am

    This article is probably the ONLY thing that would get me to Vegas. I’m glad I know about these awesome off-strip things (like the dive bar! Wow, heaven!) in case someone forces me there.
    You friggin’ rock!

  4. Tony Feller
    August 5, 2012, 11:04 pm
  5. Shannon Switzer
    July 31, 2012, 12:56 am

    Quick update from Debi Puccinelli at the Neon Museum:
    The Neon Museum is currently under construction and will be opening to the public for a regular schedule of tours in October. During the summer, we only have one tour available, but guests need to book their tour online (www.neonmuseum.org) before arriving as we generally sell out a few weeks in advance.

  6. Shannon Switzer
    July 31, 2012, 12:51 am

    Hi Tony, sorry for delayed response! Definitely e-mail me at ShannonLeighSwitzer@gmail.com with the name of the restaurant and the article…would love to check out both! Feel free to post the article on here as well if you like. I’m sure other readers would like to see it too :)

  7. Tony Feller
    July 17, 2012, 8:45 pm

    Vegas Chinatown does have a different look than the Chinatowns i remember in the east, Phila and DC, but that is probably because those are much older

    BTW i have another off Strip restaurant (not Asian) i really like. but it is very small and not sure i want to give out the name publicly, as part of the charm is it is known to some, but not all. email me if you want the name for your next visit. (i was asked for my email before i posted so i assume you have it). also, i wrote an article for a small ezine about Vegas Chinatown, and i’d love it if you read it, but i won’t plug it here unless it is OK with you. i can also give you that info via email. either way, a return visit to Las Vegas is always in order

  8. Shannon Switzer
    July 17, 2012, 3:18 pm

    Thanks for the tips guys! Wish it had been cooler so I could have enjoyed more of Vegas’ outdoor offerings!

  9. Tony Feller
    July 16, 2012, 11:18 pm

    oh, and Ronald’s Donuts only has 3 shelves. top 2 are vegan, 3rd is non vegan/ vegan mix, depending on the daily inventory.

    i agree with above post about Lotus of Siam – awesome place!

    look at Springs Preserve and Clark County Wetlands Park for some outside off Strip recreation. well, Spring Preserve is both inside and outside, but i still would not go there in summer

  10. Tony Feller
    Las Vegas
    July 16, 2012, 10:47 pm

    i agree with most everything except Chinatown. the strip mall you are referring to is not Chinatown, it is a small part of Chinatown. Chinatown runs on Spring Mountain road from Valley View to Rainbow (if you’re going west), with literally hundreds of shops, restaurants, and tea houses, and not just Chinese, but all Asian cultures. there are also some great spots on Jones, just off Spring Mtn

    • Shannon Switzer
      July 17, 2012, 2:28 pm

      Thanks for letting me know Tony! It seemed like I was missing something. Just means I’ll have take a return trip! Although, I still say the strip mall design made it feel less authentic, no?

  11. Rob
    KS
    July 15, 2012, 4:21 am

    Ellis Island is a must for great affordable food!

  12. Patrick at Get Lost In
    http://www.getlostin.com
    July 11, 2012, 9:05 am

    Great suggestions…don’t forget to check out the Mob Museum as well!

  13. More fun off the strip
    Maryland
    July 10, 2012, 7:04 am

    Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area
    Lotus of Siam restaurant on East Sahara
    Hash House A Go Go restaurant